Leave No Trace Refillery, llc

Think Before You Don’t Drive

Here’s a huge welcome hug to 2021 ~ Happy New Year!


In recognition of New Year’s Day, I wanted to spotlight the dangers of NOT driving … I’m talking specifically about vehicle idling.  This is a tough subject for we New Englanders, who want to hop into a warm vehicle in the heart of winter, and who can have long wait times in Seacoast towns where summertime ocean barges temporarily shut down the flow of bridge traffic.

Modern day vehicles don’t need huge amounts of time to run before warming up in the winter and, in fact, warm up much more quickly once the car is underway.  During summertime, cross winds in bridged areas are typically enough to keep your car cool enough without the need for running vehicle air conditioning.

Idling vehicles wastes fuel and money, and can create hazards to our environment and to our health by emitting carbon dioxide (CO2).  From the Environmental Defense Fund (1) :  “carbon dioxide is the primary contributor to global warming” … “Sitting in an idling car means you are breathing in more of the dirty exhaust that leaks into the car cabin. Any warmth you may get from a car heater is not worth the damage to your health.”  … “Idling tailpipes spew out the same pollutants as moving cars. These pollutants have been linked to serious human illnesses including asthma, heart disease, chronic bronchitis, and cancer.”  Added to this is the fact that these greenhouse gasses are even more harmful to children as they have elevated rates of breathing.  The below chart is from verywellhealth.com (2):  

Children have faster respiratory rates than adults, and the “normal” respiratory rate can vary significantly by age. The normal ranges of respiratory rates for children of different ages include:

Newborn: 30-60 breaths per minute
Infant (1 to 12 months): 30-60 breaths per minute
Toddler (1-2 years): 24-40 breaths per minute
Preschooler (3-5 years): 22-34 breaths per minute
School-age child (6-12 years): 18-30 breaths per minute
Adolescent (13-17 years): 12-16 breaths per minute

Average healthy adult:  12-18 breaths per minute

Some argue that idling saves on repair costs of certain parts but, again, with modern vehicles the added wear on the starter and battery to turn the vehicle off & back on typically add up to only $10 per year on average, compared to the much higher costs of burning gasoline or diesel alone, and this doesn’t account for the price our environment pays at the unnecessary introduction of all of the extra CO2, nor the cost of the other repair parts that your car is clogging up or wearing out quicker by running longer than intended.  E3 Spark Plugs (3) offers a clearcut explanation of the damage idling actually does to an engine: “Experts recommend turning off the engine if you’re going to be parked for more than 30 seconds. Ten seconds of idling can burn more fuel than turning off and restarting the engine. Plus, excessive idling can damage your engine’s components, including spark plugs, cylinders and exhaust systems. Because your vehicle’s engine is not operating at its peak temperature when idling, fuel is only partially combusted, leading to a fuel residue buildup on cylinder walls. This is the gunk that can foul your sparkplugs and muck up your exhaust systems.”

There is debate amongst different countries as to what that sweet spot of time is to idle before the benefits of turning off the motor kick in.  Here’s a quick overview of a few countries’ guidelines as taken from the Government of Canada (4):

“So when should you turn your engine off?

Idling for over 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more CO2 compared to restarting your engine. However, as a more practical guideline, balancing factors such as fuel savings, overall emissions and potential component wear on the starter and battery, 60 seconds is the recommended interval. You will save money on fuel that should more than offset any potential increase in maintenance costs from any wear and tear on your starter or battery.

If you’re going to be stopped for more than 60 seconds – except in traffic – turn the engine off. 

Idling initiatives around the world

Countries around the world are concerned with the impact of transportation on the environment and human health. Messages to reduce unnecessary idling are therefore a key component of many national climate change programs.

In Europe, the recommended guidelines for turning engines off are 10 seconds in Italy and France, 20 seconds in Austria, 40 seconds in Germany and 60 seconds in the Netherlands. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency’s Smartway and Drive Wise programs both recommend turning the engine off if you’re stopped for more than 30 seconds.”

Suffice it to say, use your best judgement but please stay aware of the harmful effects of idling and turn that key off whenever it safely allows.  In summary, it seems that most countries agree: idling over 1 minute is wasteful and harmful, in more ways than one.


(1)  https://www.edf.org/attention-drivers-turn-your-idling-engines#:~:text=Help%20the%20environment.,of%20carbon%20dioxide%20each%20year

(2) https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-a-normal-respiratory-rate-2248932

(3) https://e3sparkplugs.com/blog/idling-causes-damage-to-spark-plugs-and-more/

(4) https://www.nrcan.gc.ca/energy/efficiency/communities-infrastructure/transportation/cars-light-trucks/idling/4415

Photo credit:  Gerd Altmann

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